- Image from United States of Banana: A Comic Book, Cobolt, 2017
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United States of Banana by poet Giannina Braschi was first published as a mixed-genre dramatic novel in 2011, then turned into a series of short art films by photographer Michael Somoroff in 2011, and produced as a play by theater director Juan Pablo Felix in 2015. The latest revisioning is a graphic novel by the same title, illustrated by cartoonist Joakim Lindengren and translated into Swedish by poet Helena Eriksson in 2017.
Joakim Lindengren studied fine arts at Västerås Konstskola and Konstfack in Stockholm. He made his comic album debut in the early 1980s and soon became a cult favorite in Sweden. He has created more than a dozen comic albums. He and David Nessle collaborated on the hit series John Holmes & Sherlock Watson. Lindengren created the superhero parody Kapten Stofil (translated as Captain Fogy or Captain Geezer) about an old, grumpy hero whose sole “power” is 1950s and [End Page 3] 60s nostalgia; the strip is drawn in a deliberate Silver Agepastiche. Kapten Stofil’s alter ego is Joakim himself, who is a huge nostalgia buff, obsessed with old cars, clothes, gas pumps, and the like. Lindengren also co-founded Svenska Småbil-och Rusdrycksförbundet, a club devoted to toy cars and booze. When asked how Giannina Braschi’s poetry inspired him to create a comic book, Lindengren said:
Well, the thing that made me want to do the book in the first place was that Giannina Braschi’s text was so full of pictures. Some texts are hard as hell to illustrate, but United States of Banana was reeking of pictures. To make a comic of a book is, in a way, to translate it into pictures. The main thing is to get the tone and the style of the original text into the new language. Since the project itself seemed to be madness, I needed to find a method in the madness. It was obvious that Giannina’s method was to cannibalize literary history, so the obvious thing for me was to cannibalize art history. So I did, and it turned out to be not only fun, but also educational. For every artist you paraphrase, you take some tools from that artist’s toolbox for your own.
Even though I have read, pondered, and analyzed Giannina’s text for three and a half years of working with the comics, I can’t say I understand it. And that’s alright with me; understanding art is overrated. Art is for enjoying. Sometimes when you’re enjoying a work of art—book, picture, music, anything—you understand something you wouldn’t have understood given to you another way. But that’s a bonus. Nothing is more boring and disappointing than to start reading a book and instantly understand what the author is aiming at.
There really is something in the old saying, “I don’t understand art, but I know what I like.” Unfortunately, many of us don’t even know (or admit) what we like; we just say that we like something to make us look smart, hip, or sophisticated, but that’s another story . . . [End Page 4]
Joakim Lindengren is a Swedish cartoonist, illustrator, and artist known for his crude style and burlesque humor. Based in Gothenburg, he smokes from an old pipe, stitches his own fly fishing lures, and drives a hearse.